Upon a Burning Throne by Ashok K. Banker
eBook narrated by The Burnt Empire Saga
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on April 16, 2019
Genres: Adult, Asian Literature, Epic Fantasy, Fantasy, Fiction, Literature, Mythology
Length: 688 pages Source: NetGalley
Goodreads • Amazon • Barnes & Noble • Book Depository • IndieBound
In a world where demigods and demons walk among mortals, the Emperor of the vast Burnt Empire has died, leaving a turbulent realm without an emperor. Two young princes, Adri and Shvate, are in line to rule, but birthright does not guarantee inheritance: For any successor must sit upon the legendary Burning Throne and pass The Test of Fire. Imbued with dark sorceries, the throne is a crucible—one that incinerates the unworthy. Adri and Shvate pass The Test and are declared heirs to the empire… but there is another with a claim to power, another who also survives: a girl from an outlying kingdom. When this girl, whose father is the powerful demonlord Jarsun, is denied her claim by the interim leaders, Jarsun declares war, vowing to tear the Burnt Empire apart—leaving the young princes Adri and Shvate to rule a shattered realm embroiled in rebellion and chaos....
Disclaimer: I received this book for free from NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Upon a Burning Throne starts out with potential. It tells the story of the succession of a kingdom – two children born to the royal family. One child is born blind, the other a child with albinism. The nobility is at first aghast, for these are not “normal” children. Nonetheless, the burning throne claims both children as heirs. A third child, the daughter of an outcast brother of the regent, is presented. The burning throne accepts her too, but the royal family doesn’t, and her father swears revenge.
The story sets itself to be a fight for the throne between the three children, but that’s not what happens. The little girl is never seen again, although her father causes some level of trouble. Adri and Shvate grow up, but are generally not hindered by their blindness or albinism, respectively. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be much point in attributing these things, save to illustrate the fact that the daughter would have been, by this society’s values, a more apt choice for ruler.
The rest of the tale ambles along. There are random time jumps, and a lot of the events seem to take place off-screen, per se. We find out many events by listening to characters be reminded after a period of amnesia, or by switching perspectives and having two different characters talk about it. It’s nearly 800 pages, but I’d say only 30% of that comprises actual action.
I’d also like to talk about the treatment of female characters. Banker builds up exciting characters in Karni and Mayla, strong women with a fighting spirit and intelligence. Then he reduces them both to babymaking machines. The mothers of demigods, maybe, but suited to be mothers only. Even Jilana, who helps rule as co-regent, is reduced to a bumbling, illogical mess when it comes to the safety of her grandsons. It’s just… disappointing. A step in the wrong direction for modernity.
Between the disappointment of the characters, the fantastic setup that went nowhere, and the disjointed jumping around, I didn’t care for this novel. It bills itself as an Indian Game of Thrones, and it very well could have gone that way, but there were too many people who didn’t want the throne alongside characters being shoved in stereotypical social roles… at the end of nearly an 800 page book, I felt like nothing had happened and I didn’t care what would happen next.
Are you a fan of Game of Thrones? I was really looking forward to this retelling, but it didn’t work for me. Do you have any similar recommendations? Let me know in the comments!